Authorities in Beijing have detained the brother-in-law of jailed Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, in what is being seen as a further act of official retaliation against the family.
Liu Hui, brother of Liu's wife Liu Xia, who is herself under house arrest in the capital, was detained on Jan. 31 on criminal charges linked to a property dispute, his lawyer Mo Shaoping said on Friday.
"Liu Hui was detained last year ... and then released on bail and re-detained in January," Mo said.
"The prosecution authorities charged Liu Hui and a deputy of his surnamed Zhao with fraud," Mo said. He said the charges accuse Liu Hui of cheating a business associate out of more than 3 million yuan (U.S. $483,000).
Mo said he suspected that Liu Hui's detention was motivated by anger on the part of the authorities, and was likely linked to a brief visit to the Lius' Beijing apartment late last year by rights activist Hu Jia.
"This case is likely to be heard soon ... The authorities told the family that they can hire any lawyer they like, except for [me]," Mo said. "But Liu Hui was very firm and said he wanted me as his lawyer."
"The authorities are acting illegally," he said.
Mo said he had visited Liu Hui since his detention and had met to discuss his case with his mother and brother, but that he hadn't been able to visit Liu Xia.
Mo said Liu Hui was formally charged two weeks ago, adding that the criminal charges made little sense, as they were linked to a business dispute that has since been resolved.
The charges against Liu Hui "affected the whole family, especially Liu Xia, who is worried about her brother," Mo told the Associated Press.
Earlier this month, police detained a group of activists who tried to visit Liu Xia in the residential compound in a Beijing suburb where she has been held under police guard since October 2010, when the Nobel committee first announced her husband's award.
Two Hong Kong journalists who tried to follow them to cover the visit were also beaten up.
Video taken of a rare visit to Liu Xia's apartment by Hu Jia and fellow activist Xu Youyu last December showed her anxious and tearful, whispering into Xu's ear and asking the pair to leave, for fear of reprisals against her and her family.
Days earlier, a crying and trembling Liu Xia gave her first media interview in 26 months, speaking out for the first time about her ill-health and extreme isolation.
Liu Xia said that apart from an escorted monthly visit to see Liu Xiaobo in prison, she hasn't left the couple's apartment since October 2010.
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling said it was common for the authorities to bring trumped-up charges as a way of putting pressure on dissidents and their families.
"Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia's case has made a huge impact internationally, so it is even more likely that the authorities are looking to increase the pressure on them by arresting Liu Xia's relatives," he said.
Commenting on the authorities' aversion to Mo Shaoping, Tang added: "If this wasn't a case of political persecution, the authorities wouldn't care what lawyer he hired."
Reported by Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Bi Zimo for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.